Tag Archives: Christmas

History-makers, He now restores

Across the desert we saw the star ascending far off horizons; radiant beams fell down, giving us light, a sacred altar— it draws us near. From Heaven’s womb, a new age dawns, its rays give light. Now comes true all prophesies of Simeon: on the land of shadows, the light dawns, lions roar; to the dispossessed now comes Shiloh. To them the royal destiny, history-makers— He now restores.

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Christmas epiphany

Christmas Day: May this day of sacred memory upon our Messiah— upon He who shares our suffering that we may share His glory; may His Spirit renew in you today, the knowledge of His Holy presence— the uniting of your life to His— making you for all around you— an epiphany of His saving glory.

Make us whole and send us forth

“Ragged fragments of blessing, of pain. We gather the scattered pieces; hopes we carry; struggles of birthing; places of welcome that bring healing and life. We lay them at the threshold, God; bid you hold them, bless them, use them; ask you tend them, mend them, transform them. Make us whole, and send us forth.” – Abridged prayer from Jan Richardson, “Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas.”

Surrender to the creative Word

From beyond margin’s of prevailing powers came Messiah’s advent, effecting the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon the weak, making them prophets of His kingdom; establishing the sacred proto-type; recovering our true destiny as co-creators of His new world; turning our shame into wombs for the birthing of a new age— only seeking from us surrender to His creative Word: “Let it happen to me according to your word!”

2010: Living the Glory of Christmas

2010: Living the Glory of Christmas

“There were shepherds . . . the glory of the Lord shone around them . . . But the angel said to them . . . ‘To you– is born this day . . . a Savior’. . . So they hurried off and found . . . the baby lying in the manger.”  Luke 2:8-14

We can find within the traditional Christian calendar used in the more historic churches as well as in the worship of the ancient churches, a profound understanding that the spirit of Christmas ought to help us begin every new year with a renewed vision of God’s glory—which is the true glory of Christmas.

First off, for the believer, Christmas is not just a celebration of Jesus’ birth on earth but a celebration of His birth in our hearts.  And that having been born in us even also as a seed, He lives in us for this reason:  that we may be restored to His likeness.  It is this very work of Christ in us that partly defines the glory of Christmas.  Christ is born in our hearts for far much more than to bring us into heaven.  He is born in us to unite us to Himself, that we also manifest His likeness and hence the glory of God.

It is for this reason that right after Christmas comes the season of Epiphany: the beginning of every new year, is a season of Epiphany!  Epiphany means, “appearance;” epiphany means the manifestation of Christ.  Until Christ again, bodily returns to earth when we shall see Him in His resurrected body, he is now primarily manifest when His likeness is manifest through humans who offer their lives to him for this very purpose:  to be an “epiphany” of Christ.

When we can see in the weakness of human flesh, the glory of God, it is then we see an epiphany of Jesus.  It is then we encounter a living manifestation of the life of Jesus, changing a person from the likeness of Adam and into the likeness of Christ.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: would we like to begin the new year with an “epiphany” of Christ in us?  Do we want to see in the new year, a new manifestation of His life in us?  Would we like to let others see this manifestation of Jesus?  Because when they do, then we are sharing the hope of the world through our very life.

So let again revisit the story of Christmas, and again reflect on the glory of Christmas.  All over the world, it is common for homes to put up brightly lit, tinsel-covered, glorious Christmas trees, and brightly coloured lights and candles and decorations.  Perhaps in some way, all this is part of what we call the “glory of Christmas.”

But let us also be mindful that the true glory of the first Christmas, is not in these things.  It’s not in the “Christmas tinsel.”  The true glory of Christmas is rather found in things very plain, simple, and humble.  Now Christmas is about how God came down, and lived among us.  But how far did He come down?  It’s an important question, because in Jesus, we see God for who He is. 

How far down did He come?

  1. I. HE CAME ALL THE WAY DOWN.

In a small village, He was born in poverty and scandal.  The son of a teenage peasant girl named Mary.  She was pregnant, but not married!  Her protruding belly branded her— an adulteress.  For her husband to be— was not His natural father!  Yet the day came, Jesus was born!  In an animal stable.  They laid Him in a manger, a feeding trough for donkeys!  So the air smelled with urine and donkey dung.

First to greet Jesus’ birth were the shepherds.  These were not white haired clean-cut looking Kiwi sheep herders.  They were rough, smelly, and dirty.  Most were not, morally upright people.  I sought to identify a “functional equivalent” for these shepherds— to help us reflect, on who they might be, in our setting.  But not wanting to offend anyone, I’ll suggest: you imagine who might fill that role.  But I would say: the kind of places they would frequent may be similar to what we have here in the Geylang area!  Living in dormitories or one-room rented flats.

Most of these shepherds were not out looking for God.  They were neither pious, nor devoutly religious people.  Yet to them the angels came, and proclaimed: “To you!  Is born this day . . . a Savior, who is the Messiah.”

Then Jesus grew up.  In a “kampong,” called Nazareth.  It was so bad, they used to say, “Could anything good, come out of Nazareth?”  Nazareth was in Galilee.  95% of Galileans were poor.  Jesus was one of them, and became a carpenter.  Then at age 30 He one day went into the Synagogue, and proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Then for the final three years of His life, He ministered to His fellow Galileans.  He never wrote a book.  He never held a political office.  He never owned a home.  He lived on handouts.  Except for Jerusalem, He never visited the big cities.  He had no credentials but Himself.  But He attracted all kinds of people.  The poor, the rich.  Prostitutes.  Political revolutionaries.  Religious people.  Political leaders.  But above all, the oppressed and downtrodden.  Everyone invited him for dinner.  He enjoyed a good meal, with just about anyone!

But public opinion turned against Him.  Threatened by His revolution, the leaders sought to kill Him.  His followers left Him.  They nailed Him to a cross, between two thieves.  He died disgraced, in total shame.

20 centuries have come and gone.  Yet today He is the central figure of the human race.  All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected humanity on this earth, as much as that one solitary life.

He is the true King of Heaven and Earth.  In Him, the Kingdom of God has come.  One day the kingdoms of this world shall cease, but His kingdom shall never end.  When He first came, there was no room in the inn.  But when He comes again, the whole world will not be able to contain His glory.

The greatest event in human history was the birth of Jesus Christ.  This event divided history, into two parts:  before and after Christ!  The creator of all things, shrank Himself down. so small, as to become a single fertilised egg.  And we “beheld His glory!”  This– is the glory of Christmas.

“He made Himself nothing.”  He “emptied Himself” of all His glory.  Why?  To show us, what He is like!  That God– is humble!  He is approachable!  He is touched by our suffering!  He is giving!  “He is the image of the invisible God!”

Yet there’s more!  For in Him, we now see– our true humanity!  He became like us, that we might become like Him!  He is not only the image of God— He is the image of the perfect man, and woman.  If you’re a Christian, He is the image of what God re-making you and I to become.  He is changing us into His likeness.  Therefore, He says to you and I:

  1. II. GO AND DO LIKEWISE!

All through the Gospels, that’s the word Jesus keeps speaking to us: “Go, and do likewise!  He says, “This is how I’ve lived my life.  Put your feet in my footsteps, and follow me!”  People were asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?  Who do I show kindness to?”  And He said, “All people.  Rich or poor.  Every skin colour.  Locals.  Foreigners.  Whatever you think their sin is, it’s not the issue: be a neighbour.  And make sure you be a neighbour to people you tend to despise.  These especially, are your neighbours.”  “Come down!  Go, and do likewise!”

The other day, I was boarding the LRT in Sengkang.  I was behind the yellow line, waiting for passengers to exit.  But there were these “China” foreign workers blocking the entrance, positioning themselves to be “first” inside the coach.  Since I was doing the “right thing,” I gave a “look,” to let them know, they were doing the wrong thing!  But the Lord spoke to me.  And I realised that, these are foreigners; they don’t know all the “rules,” but God loves them.  What they need is kindness, and forbearance; not correction.  Anyone can judge!  But are you willing to die for them?  Jesus was, and He did.  “Go and do likewise!”

Last week we met a Taiwanese woman at a coffee shop.  We talked for over an hour.  She’s been here for about two years, and suffering from culture shock.  She said we were the nicest people she’s met since coming here.  But I know she’s suffering culture shock.  Are we sensitive to these “strangers” in our midst?

Now let’s reflect on the situation here in the Geylang area.  Let’s evaluate our perspectives.  Because, if we compare Geylang to Shenton Way, there’s the probability that there is a whole lot more “sin” going on in Shenton Way than in Geylang.  Why?  Because throughout those tall buildings is marital adultery, fornication, lying, stealing, cheating, backstabbing, politicking, slander and malice!  Those things are just not as visible.

Geylang is more like an open wound, caused by the sickness of our whole world.  But by sheer geography, this community comprises, “our neighbours.”  And because we’re bound to “bump” into people who are different, Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise.”

We are also surrounded by people of other religious persuasions.  But they are not spiritual “competitors,” or “enemies.”  They are also, our “neighbours.”  How we understand people, determines how we treat them.  Do we see them as so depraved they deserve our contempt, or as people whom God loves?

How are we postured to people who are “not like us?”  Who are “different from us?  Not as “prim and proper” as us?  But we’re all, “diamonds in the rough.”  For inside the heart of every person, lies a “spark” of God’s glory!  That’s why we’re “redeemable.  That’s why we matter to God.  So we’re called not to judge but to see people through Christ’s eyes.

Over these past days, I felt the Lord impress me with this thought:  Revival in this church is linked to how deeply in our heart, we’re willing to embrace this community.

Because, for however long it may be— this church, like other churches here, is for this moment, God’s hope for this area.  God sometimes keeps a person or people in a certain place until lessons are learned that He wants to teach in that place.  So therefore, “for such a time as this,” this part of the land, of the “good earth,” is part of the “pasture,” for this church.

It is part of the “pasture” where the “shepherd,” meaning this church, has to “be a neighbour,” to the lost sheep.  I’m not talking about going out and “witnessing.”  I am rather referring to our posture towards “our neighbors.”  The posture of our heart towards people who are different from us, especially people we tend to brand as depraved, “immoral,” or of a different religious persuasion, or simply find different from us.  The problem, is not what’s “out there, around us.  It’s here, in our heart.  It’s our posture to human beings— created in the image of God.

So that when opportunity arises, we are kind, and what is manifest is not “judgment,” or irritation, but the warmth of Christ.  That’s what it means to be a “Christian:” a little “christ,” a disciple of Jesus Christ.  That to all men, and all women, the warmth and love of Christ is manifest.  I would challenge us that for 2010, let’s strive not to be all the more known for Christianity.  But rather to be known as “Christ-like.”

  1. III. AND HE SHALL LIFT YOU UP.

Humble yourselves and He shall lift you up!  Become a magnetic house of healing!  Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, do not invite your friends . . . or rich neighbors,” or anyone who can repay you.  But rather, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed!”  (Luke 14:12-14).

You set your self to become a “different kind” of church.  A magnetic house of healing.  A church without walls.  Let your fruit “hang over the walls,” for the poor in the land.  Don’t worry about not attracting the right kind of people you’d like to bring here, to these premises.  But become a “magnetic house of healing,” and God will fill the church.  He fill it, if we’re open to all kinds of people who healing.  And along the way, God will send a few rich people along the way also, because there are some who’d believe and be attracted to what your doing.

If you embrace the whole community with all you heart, be a neighbour to this whole community, “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. . . . you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:11-12)

  1. He came all the way down.
  2. Go and do likewise.
  3. And He shall lift you up.

Monte Lee Rice (December 2009)

The Christmas miracle

The Christmas miracle

“’You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . . And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son . . . for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’  Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” (Luke chapter 2)

God favours those who are barren, yet open to His Word.

Hear the angel’s word: “Mary . . . you have found favour with God. . . . you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”  The virgin Mary conceived.  The life of Jesus came incarnate within the darkness of her womb; into the “darkness of human impossibility!”

Scripture is full of stories, where God opens closed wombs.  Only God brings life to closed wombs.  And a woman’s womb reminds us that in the darkness of human desolation, God gives life (Ps 139:13).  It is the miracle of Genesis, of creation, of new beginnings in Jesus Christ.  And so for us, a pattern was established.  Mary became a model disciple of the Lord.  And she anticipated this; spilling forth the Magnificant, “My soul magnifies the Lord . . . for . . . surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has ‘magnified’ me!”

  1. 1. Rest in the knowledge you are highly favoured by God.

If you are in Christ, you also are “highly favoured.”  You are “beloved of the Lord!”  People may forget you, but God remembers you.  He knows where you are.  He knows how you are.  God knows your name, and He knows your number.  And God has His timing.

  1. 2. Rest in God’s “timing.”

There are times in the human predicament that a “womb” is closed.

Are you trapped by circumstances with no exit sign?  In prison, Joseph had no network.  But Joseph knew God.  In the Judean hills David had no network.  But he knew God.  Moses had a network; then he lost it.  But in the desert he found God.  Job had a network; but it was taken from him.  Yet Job found God.  “Come,” he says, “and I will teach you about the hand of God.”  Paul too lost his network.  But in the desert, he too found God.  In the desert, Mary knew God.  No doubt all these people wondered about God.  No doubt they wondered if they knew God.

But in the silence of the “womb” of human impossibility, they learned God.  And all these people were “highly favoured” by the Lord.

Where are you in God’s timing?

Mary was in a village, in the outback of the Judean desert.  They used to say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Mary had no network.  There were surely days that she and Joseph could not even afford a net, a fishing net.  They were flat broke!

But God sent His angel to the village . . . and the angel said, “Greetings favoured one!  The Lord is with you!”  Mary did have a network after all, a friend in high places- the highest place!  Mary knew God.

  1. 3. Be ready for God’s timing.

Are you open to the timing of God?  Are you open to the fullness of God?  At first Mary tried to reason it all out.  She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Mary knew she had no relations yet with Joseph.  Mary is just like the rest of us, walking around the altar with this little “scientist” in us, trying to figure out God with our little mental “microscopes.”

Now Mary was also just a little teenage kampong girl.  She probably didn’t even know how to read or write.  She learned the Scriptures by hearing and singing!  But the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . . For nothing is impossible with God.”  Somehow, perhaps because Mary was in the desert was learning God, she received the word of the Lord.  And she opened herself up to the Spirit of God, and the word of the Lord.  “I am the servant of the Lord,” she cried out, “let it be to me according to your word.”

Down through the epochs of Scripture, God sometimes “opens wombs.”  There are times when God shows up. . . a serendipity surprises us!  And life is born in the “darkness of human impossibility!”  But will you be ready for God’s visitation?  Are you ready for His timing?

Rest in God’s “timing,” and be ready for His timing.

  1. 4. Open your self to God’s fullness.

“In the fullness of time,” God opened Mary’s womb.  That kairos moment was in the sixth month after God also opened Elisabeth’s womb, previously barren in her old age.  God has His time.

Finally, Mary was open to fullness of God.  She was open to His fullness because she was open to the possibilities of God who out of darkness, brings forth new life.

But if we are open to God’s fullness, we have to open His way.  His way may require our willingness to look foolish in the eyes of the world.  Mary looked foolish because for several months she was pregnant though her marriage to Joseph wa not yet formalized and consummated.  Some thought she was an adulteress.

But Mary restined in the knowledge that she was highly favoured by God.  She rested in God’s timing.  She rested in God’s ways.  She readied herself for God’s timing.  And she was open for God’s fullness.  In spite of all the possible and probable shame and misunderstanding that were to come upon her, she said to the Lord, “Be it unto me, according to your Word.”

Someone asked a historian if he could briefly summarise the lessons of history.  He said he could, in four sentences.  Here is his last sentence:  “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”  Time now for a worn cliché:  “Let go and let God.”

There you are.  A barren womb.  The despair of human impossibility.  You have been there and done that.  Yet God can speak a word to you, a word that brings seed and life to your “womb of human impossibility.”  But can you make this one hard confession?  “I let go.  God, I let you . . . Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Good news!  God favours underdogs.  He came to one, as one Himself.  So Mary sang, “He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.”

Some of you know about Evensong.  Let me close on the Morning Song:  “Be it unto me . . . according to your Word; and there shall be a performance . . . of that which was spoken; for nothing is impossible with God.”

“Freely you received, freely give.”

“Freely you received, freely give.”

These are some thoughts on celebrating Christmas.  But even more, these are thoughts reflecting how the true spirit of Christmas ought to posture our journey in and through the new year.

Jesus said, “Freely you received, freely give.”  God gives that we may give as He gives.  God freely gives but always with the purpose of changing us.  God freely gives, but He does not give just to bless; He gives to invest in the growth of whatever He blesses with His gifts.

Jesus did not die on the cross for our sins, so that we can go to heaven when we die.  The Bible does not teach that; at least not in quite that perspective.  Rather, our eternal livelihood in God’s presence is a by-product of a greater purpose God has designed towards us.  For what the Bible teaches is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that He may restore us into His likeness.

This Christmas, let us be mindful that God is greater than Santa Clause and nothing like Santa Claus.  Contrary to the ill-fated beliefs of far too many Christians today, God does not freely give to us, without seeking a change in us.  He does not freely give to us just to make us happy and affirm us as His children.  God does not freely give in order to solve all our problems, fulfill all our desires, and make feel good and happy.  This kind of thinking is pure delusion and a very poor and very wrong image of God and His blessings.  This whole mindset misses the greater nature, power and purpose of God the giving God; of God who freely gives because He is the Most Moved Giver.

A helpful contemporary metaphor to describe God in His giving to us, is the idea of an “angel investor,” but in the best sense of the word.  God graces us with His gifts because He finds all of us to be a worthy investment of His grace.  This is partly what the Bible means by “redemption.”

God finds us humans redeemable for one reason:  He created us in His likeness.  So He has staked His very existence in fact, to secure our redemption.  He has redeemed us, for one reason: to restore all things back to their original purpose.  It does not matter how far we have strayed from the divine purpose.  In all our sins, we are redeemable.

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” (James 1:18).  A Santa Claus god gives so that we can have and enjoy things.  But the true God freely gives so that we can become joyful givers, passing down all that he passes down to us.

God give so that hopefully, we become something like God: a gracious person endowed with the supernatural capacity to freely and joyfully give to whomever lacks the “gift” we receive from God.

Every gift that God bestows upon us has a prophetic purpose.  Every gift God freely gives us is divinely purposed to produce a change in our wicked heart.  And the evidence of that change is how well we also become endowed with the grace of giving.

As He restores us into His likeness, we become ambassadors of heaven.  As ambassadors of heaven, we give as God has given to us, and still gives to us.  Everything passes down from the Father to us, so that we become channels of His blessing.

Whatever God gives us, if we give it away, especially as an investment in others, our act of giving will last forever.  But whatever God gives us, if we keep it only to our self, it will soon pass away; it will not last into eternity.  The time will come when whatever gifts we have received but failed to somehow pass on to others, those gifts will rot; they will burn, they will pass away.

There are acts we do however, which can last forever.  What lasts for eternity is the motive and purity behind every gift and blessing we pass on to others.

As “calculating” humans who are still growing in the ways of Jesus, we may question the effectiveness of what we give.  We may regret what we have given because we perceive our “gifts” have been ill planned, squandered, or have not resulted in the desired fruit or long-term outcome.

So we must remind ourselves that what will last forever, is the purity of our act; the purity of our giving.  If we freely give in pure gratitude for what God has freely given us, our action—our act of giving, will last forever.

What can we give?

We can give our time; we can give our material possessions; we can give expertise.  We can give our gifts; we can pass down and on, what has been passed down to us.  We can give grace.  We can give forbearance.  We can give forgiveness.  We can give others the benefit of the doubt.

We can give our selves to creating goods, services and technologies  that may not make us rich but will make the world a better place, especially for those who have less than us.  We can give our excess away.

Who should we give?

We should give to everyone, but especially to those who cannot pay us back.  So we should foremost give to the poor, to children, to the elderly, to the widows, to the broken, to the destitute.  We should give to those who have broken the law and suffered for their transgressions.  We should give everyone who needs a second chance, and to everyone who need a new lease in life.  This is what the Bible means by preaching the “Year of the Lord,” the acceptable year of the Lord;” the year of Jubilee.

And may I say to my Pentecostal brothers and sisters, and also to my Charismatic brethren who value manifestations of God’s Spirit through the miraculous, to give freely give largely sums up the meaning of Pentecost, because Pentecost is the beginning of the year of Jubilee; the Age of the Spirit; the Age of God’s prophetic people.  If we presume we are full of the Spirit and speak in tongues but find it hard to free give or freely forgive, we had better reflect if we are living out the year of Jubilee.  What we might really be living out is just remnants of a once great move of God’s Spirit in our life.

How should we give?

We give without expecting anything in return.  We freely give because we have freely received.  But we can hope and pray that whomever we give to will in turn become prompted to also give. We cab hope and pray that to whomever we give, will pass on the grace of giving.

We can hope and pray that whomever we forgive, will likewise forgive someone else.

We can hope and pray that as God’s grace flows through us, so also it will continue to flow through whomever we have freely given.

God is building a new world; He is building a new world out of this present one, which is passing away.  Every good thing we do; every pure act that results from encountering God’s grace in our life, will last forever.  Every act of kindness will last forever.  Every act of charity will endure for all eternity.  What we do in life, will indeed last for eternity.  That is why the Scripture says, “Let us know become weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap a harvest.

God loves you just as you are.  But He loves you too much to leave you as you are.  Everything He gives to you, is with the aim of transforming you into His likeness.

So if God has freely given to you, you also must free give, as often as possible, as much as possible, and to as many as possible.  For in so doing, you are contributing to the building of a new world, a world built not on wood and straw but a world built on gold and silver; a world built on the foundation of Christ.  A new world built upon the very image of God Himself.  Freely you have received, freely give.

Postlude:

Some of these thoughts I’ve gleaned from a book I am presently reading by Pentecostal theologian Miroslav Volf, titled, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).

In 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, selected this book as the Lenten study book for 2006.  Dr Rowan Williams wrote in his “Foreword,” “This is a book about worshiping the true God and letting the true God act in us. . . our knowledge of this true God is utterly bound up with our willingness to receive from the hand of God the liberty to give and forgive. . .  I cannot remember having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us, ‘in our place.’”

Here is one Volf’s final reflections, which I find quite stimulating:  “Why do we refuse the God-given bridge that would transport us from selfishness to self-giving, from vengeance to forgiveness?  That’s a mystery that should make us tremble— tremble before the God who gives to the ungrateful and the God who forgives the ungodly.”